Under Grand Central's tattered vault —maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit— one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim billowed over some minor constellation under repair. Then, on Broadway, red wings in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws preening, beaks opening and closing like those animated knives that unfold all night in jewelers' windows. For sale, glass eyes turned outward toward the rain, the birds lined up like the endless flowers and cheap gems, the makeshift tables of secondhand magazines and shoes the hawkers eye while they shelter in the doorways of banks. So many pockets and paper cups and hands reeled over the weight of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd a woman reached to me across the wet roof of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta, I'm hungry. She was only asking for change, so I don't know why I took her hand. The rooftops were glowing above us, enormous, crystalline, a second city lit from within. That night a man on the downtown local stood up and said, My name is Ezekiel, I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called fall. He stood up straight to recite, a child reminded of his posture by the gravity of his text, his hands hidden in the pockets of his coat. Love is protected, he said, the way leaves are packed in snow, the rubies of fall. God is protecting the jewel of love for us. He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him all the change left in my pocket, and the man beside me, impulsive, moved, gave Ezekiel his watch. It wasn't an expensive watch, I don't even know if it worked, but the poet started, then walked away as if so much good fortune must be hurried away from, before anyone realizes it's a mistake. Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed like feathers in the rain, under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts, must have wondered at my impulse to touch her, which was like touching myself, the way your own hand feels when you hold it because you want to feel contained. She said, You get home safe now, you hear? In the same way Ezekiel turned back to the benevolent stranger. I will write a poem for you tomorrow, he said. The poem I will write will go like this: Our ancestors are replenishing the jewel of love for us.
Mark Doty - 1953-
Heaven for Helen
Helen says heaven, for her, would be complete immersion in physical process, without self-consciousness— to be the respiration of the grass, or ionized agitation just above the break of a wave, traffic in a sunflower's thousand golden rooms. Images of exchange, and of untrammeled nature. But if we're to become part of it all, won't our paradise also involve participation in being, say, diesel fuel, the impatience of trucks on August pavement, weird glow of service areas along the interstate at night? We'll be shiny pink egg cartons, and the thick treads of burst tires along the highways in Pennsylvania: a hell we've made to accompany the given: we will join our tiresome productions, things that want to be useless forever. But that's me talking. Helen would take the greatest pleasure in being a scrap of paper, if that's what there were to experience. Perhaps that's why she's a painter, finally: to practice disappearing into her scrupulous attention, an exacting rehearsal for the larger world of things it won't be easy to love. Helen I think will master it, though I may not. She has practiced a long time learning to see I have devoted myself to affirmation, when I should have kept my eyes on the ground.